A Question of Criteria for MainLine Campaigns

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Dirk Gently
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A Question of Criteria for MainLine Campaigns

Post by Dirk Gently » April 9th, 2008, 12:51 am

Hmm not really sure this is the appropriate forum to place this, but as the Developer's Discussion is a closed forum I'll lay out my thoughts here.

I am a regular user of Wesnoth for a year and a half. As I have been a part of it, I have learned the development of Wesnoth-1.2.8 has set an unqualified standard in open source gaming that the community is still absorbing and desiring to emulate. During the 1.2.8 phase I have played almost all of the main campaigns and tried a good number of the add-on campaigns. Recently I installed 1.4. I found the technical merits profoundly better. Wesnoth ran very smooth, loaded quicker, and computational times decreased. Also I feel the art aspects took a leap forward from their already top notch value. I however do have a grip with the included campaigns.

I recognized instantly what a beautiful piece of work "Under the Burning Suns" is. I can tell it is a carefully laid out masterpiece carefully writing in a alluring storyline, large scale battlegrounds, and requires the user to carefully consider his/her moves. The main campaign also is nicely laid piece that has a polish and allure that makes me say, "I could play this again!". Or, "I remember when...". When I heard that 1.4 was adding seven new campaigns I immediately went to the store and got several liters of my favorite caffeination.

I tried "Hammer of Thursagan", a basic but well designed campaign where play elements seem well balanced. Proceeding to try a more veteran campaign, I looked into "Descent into Darkness". I had tried this campaign previously in 1.2.8 but thought that thought that it was rough and the story too spectrumed and passed on it. In 1.4 I decided to stick it out - regretfully. The first chapter is well done and reflects well the storyline with a well-calculated degree of difficulty, but the second chapter is demanding, frustrating, and, I'll say it, poorly designed. I could go on that the third chapter is overly simplistic (finished in five turns) and the fourth chapter is baffling (a trap only a masochist would fall into) and I'll leave it at that. Yes, I know what one will say: that such gripes belong their respective scenario review thread. The point oh patient reader who got this far, is that... I question the official criteria that Wesnoth has adopted for inclusion of campaigns in official releases. Or really it's lack thereof.

I've read the Policy for adding campaigns to mainline client thread, yet a basis for quality criteria is extremely loose. Guidelines such as "doesn't have to be polished", and "reasonably balanced" are open-ended and personally confusing.

The caliber up to this point of Wesnoth in open-source gaming is unmatched in both source and scope. The technical, artwork, gameplay elements, and handful of campaigns sets a standard for open-source gaming and I think that this all open reception policy needs reviewed to continue Wesnoth's tradition.

I'd enjoy hearing any thoughts.
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Weeksy
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Re: A Question of Criteria for MainLine Campaigns

Post by Weeksy » April 9th, 2008, 4:46 am

That's the submission policy. If it gets in or not is a very different matter to if it gets submitted, and the personal opinions of the devs will make a big difference there. Also note that campaigns will only be added to mainline in development releases, which take some time (thus allowing some polishing) before becoming stable versions.
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Re: A Question of Criteria for MainLine Campaigns

Post by zookeeper » April 9th, 2008, 8:18 am

Dirk Gently wrote:I tried "Hammer of Thursagan", a basic but well designed campaign where play elements seem well balanced. Proceeding to try a more veteran campaign, I looked into "Descent into Darkness". I had tried this campaign previously in 1.2.8 but thought that thought that it was rough and the story too spectrumed and passed on it. In 1.4 I decided to stick it out - regretfully. The first chapter is well done and reflects well the storyline with a well-calculated degree of difficulty, but the second chapter is demanding, frustrating, and, I'll say it, poorly designed. I could go on that the third chapter is overly simplistic (finished in five turns) and the fourth chapter is baffling (a trap only a masochist would fall into) and I'll leave it at that. Yes, I know what one will say: that such gripes belong their respective scenario review thread. The point oh patient reader who got this far, is that... I question the official criteria that Wesnoth has adopted for inclusion of campaigns in official releases. Or really it's lack thereof.

I've read the Policy for adding campaigns to mainline client thread, yet a basis for quality criteria is extremely loose. Guidelines such as "doesn't have to be polished", and "reasonably balanced" are open-ended and personally confusing.

The caliber up to this point of Wesnoth in open-source gaming is unmatched in both source and scope. The technical, artwork, gameplay elements, and handful of campaigns sets a standard for open-source gaming and I think that this all open reception policy needs reviewed to continue Wesnoth's tradition.

I'd enjoy hearing any thoughts.
Well I personally think that most of the developers are in fact simply not enthusiastic gamers and thus kind of blind to gameplay issues and don't really care about the finer points of it which is the basic reason for the lack of campaign quality control. I guess it's also a kind of a quantity vs. quality approach. Campaigns get added if someone really wants to add one and no one else disagrees enough to make them spend a lot of time working against the proposal, and there seems to only be a rather small number of developers who'd even say anything on the matter, whether for or against.

As you said, the policy for adding new campaigns is loose and focuses mostly on technical merits and ignoring gameplay issues. Probably because people actually do have different opinions on them and thus it could be hard to try to sum up any gameplay requirements. Naturally we'd welcome new people onboard to try to remedy any design issues there exists in the mainline campaigns. ;) Even just posting detailed proposals on how to fix issues in some specific scenario would help, as the barrier for starting to fix a design issue in a scenario is pretty high (at least for me) if there's no ready plan I could just follow. Basically, identifying a problem is a good start but coming up with the details of how to fix it seems to be the hard part.

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Re: A Question of Criteria for MainLine Campaigns

Post by Mist » April 10th, 2008, 2:14 am

True, there is just a handful of devs with strong opinions on gameplay/storyline of currently mainlined campaigns and we tend to get overwhelmed with the sheer size of any meaningful rewrites. For example it took me about two months to "polish" first three scenarios of UtBS, and I still think the second one warrants more changes. Basicaly it is hard to introduce any sort of quality controll amongst us since it seems we look for different things when it comes to gameplay, and not allways agree on what to do with things. There is also an added hurdle of WML, some of the stuff we ship is pretty poor/old/ugly under the hood, sometimes even limiting when it comes to introducing changes, and it's hard to "touch" a scenario without some sort of WML overhaul. But yes, I think we would welcome a coherent proposal for changes even if it would in the end just become a platform for discussion.
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Re: A Question of Criteria for MainLine Campaigns

Post by Wintermute » April 10th, 2008, 2:59 am

Dirk Gently wrote:I'd enjoy hearing any thoughts.
You make some interesting points. Also, I enjoy your handle thoroughly. Here is a somewhat tangential thought: I would venture to guess that several-to-many of the people capable of really creating a top-notch campaign are pretty much engrossed in multiplayer development. Various interesting scenarios, multiplayer campaigns and the like. There are IMO some _amazing_ things being done with user made content on the multiplayer side.

I say this as a player who also really enjoyed playing single player when I first started Wesnoth. However, I find now that what limited time I have these days tends to be on the multiplayer server, rather than on the single player campaigns. I guess my point, if I have one, is that the multiplayer aspect of Wesnoth is (IMNSHO) so great that many people get sucked into it, perhaps at the expense of some single-player creativity.

Just an observation!
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Re: A Question of Criteria for MainLine Campaigns

Post by Anym » April 10th, 2008, 5:10 am

The original post very much mirrors my feelings, as somebody who just started out with Wesnoth, after having played A Tale of Two Brothers as my first campaign, which I didn't like very much either. You can read my thoughts on it on the Campaign Feedback board so I won't repeat most of them here. I tried to be as detailed and as constructive with my criticism as I could, but my main problem was that the scenarios in the campaign weren't connected at all neither by gameplay (you fight three different factions over the course of four scenarios) nor by story (which I found just bad) which made me feel that it was almost beyond salvaging as any meaningful changes would have to be so radical that the campaign would hardly be recognisable afterwards anymore and that the energy spent on that would better go creating something different from scratch as the campaign, unlike Descent into Darkness, doesn't even have an interesting premise or other redeeming features IMHO.

Considering how easy it is to download add-ons from within the game, I have to say I can't quite understand having a quantity over quality attitude. Having fewer campaigns with higher quality (on average) seems preferable in almost every way.

Of course, having actual guidelines what constitutes a high quality campaign is very difficult as much of it very subjective (good story, good writing, interesting maps, diverse objectives,...), and I unfortunately don't have a proposal for criteria for quality campaigns (other than "not being AToTB", I guess).
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Re: A Question of Criteria for MainLine Campaigns

Post by torangan » April 10th, 2008, 2:15 pm

Having a lot of campaigns in mainline is good to show quite a bit of the potential and they receive more care and translations. As already said, we need more people to give constructive critics on the quality aspects. People with good WML skills which go over a campaign and "simply" replace the WML with more advanced constructs which are easier to read without changing the content would already be a huge help. Of course, over time many people will drift over to MP as playing against humans is simply more challenging and diverse.

About Two Brothers: this campaign is intended to be a mix between tutorial and campaign. Introducing the different game play concepts to a beginner without boring them is a hard task...
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Re: A Question of Criteria for MainLine Campaigns

Post by Dave » April 10th, 2008, 7:11 pm

Dirk: Thank you for your comments.

I think that probably the biggest part of the "problem" you point out is that quite simply, Under the Burning Suns is a brilliantly done campaign. It's simply great, excellent, and a load of fun.

Since Quartex, its principal author left, we have struggled to make campaigns of equal quality. This often occurs in Open Source software. We have struggled to come up with story art that matches the few images in the HTTT introduction, for instance, since its author left. If, for instance, our lead artist, Jetryl, were to have to leave for one reason or another, I'm sure you would see the quality of improvement in artwork stay stagnant for many releases. So it goes.

It is probably correct that we could do a better job of selecting campaigns, but I think the biggest problem is that we simply haven't had any standout "oh my goodness, this campaign is brilliant!" events since UtBS, and before that, the Rise of Wesnoth, which is also a top campaign.

I would say that many campaigns, such as Hammer of Thursagardan have reached the rough quality of Rise of Wesnoth, but I don't think any has really touched UtBS, especially from the perspective of players who value an interesting, dynamic storyline highly.

We would love to see some more great campaigns. We have an open development model, and welcome new campaign authors, as well as those who simply want to help with existing campaigns. There are various efforts to make new fun campaigns. As one example, there is this: http://wesnoth.org/wiki/Thunderstone which may or may not turn out to be a great addition to Wesnoth. You are welcome to get involved!

David
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Re: A Question of Criteria for MainLine Campaigns

Post by Anym » April 10th, 2008, 8:20 pm

torangan wrote:About Two Brothers: this campaign is intended to be a mix between tutorial and campaign. Introducing the different game play concepts to a beginner without boring them is a hard task...
It doesn't actually do that, though, does it? Unlike The South Guard (which is a great beginner's campaign except when it runs into balance problems) or Heir to the Throne (which I enjoy so far, but haven't finished yet), neither of which is boring, A Tale of Two Brothers doesn't seem to include anything in the way of helpful hints for beginners (or unhelpful hints for that matter). As there already is a good campaign for beginners in the form of The South Guard, I just wonder if there is a need for more, far less good introductory campaigns to be included in mainline, which, I fear, are more likely to alienate new players than to draw them in.
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Re: A Question of Criteria for MainLine Campaigns

Post by Dirk Gently » April 11th, 2008, 5:20 am

zookeeper wrote:... the policy for adding new campaigns is loose and focuses mostly on technical merits and ignoring gameplay issues. Probably because people actually do have different opinions on them and thus it could be hard to try to sum up any gameplay requirements. Naturally we'd welcome new people onboard to try to remedy any design issues there exists in the mainline campaigns. ;) Even just posting detailed proposals on how to fix issues in some specific scenario would help...
I like the proposal and will do as such. I notice a number of people here comment with what looks to be a good amount of colaboration, this is a very exciting process because each user experience is personal. I look forward to be able to hear a good variety of perspective, this process is very exciting. It's rare a user can talk to a developer and get anything more than a "We'll think about it", ahh, the greatness of open-source. This is good to know. :)
Dave wrote:... We would love to see some more great campaigns. We have an open development model, and welcome new campaign authors, as well as those who simply want to help with existing campaigns. There are various efforts to make new fun campaigns. As one example, there is this: http://wesnoth.org/wiki/Thunderstone which may or may not turn out to be a great addition to Wesnoth. You are welcome to get involved!

David
Wesnoth, certainly, has no shortage of campaigns. I have noticed that campaigns in Wesnoth vary in a great degree from difficulty to style and number. As with many open source projects there more kings than there are realms. Wesnoth campaigns seem to have the ability to be incredibly expansive meaning a campaign can either be rich and detailed or vast and flailing. So I welcome the offer to develop and appreciate the reference to Thunderstone (very very ambitious), I will look into it.

As for criteria for inclusion into mainline campaigns, it seems to me the criteria for inclusion already exists. Seems to me that peer reviews here in the forums may be the best judge to allow inclusion. I have read a good number of these good reviews and wish I had done so previously (they have already help picked the next campaign[valley of death]) I'm going to play. This filter process could use these reviews directly through aggregating user reviews or, possibly a user review process board could be built?? A board as such could evaluate as each release approached and could include or exclude as needed. Plenty of players here seem able to be able to create good quantitative reviews. I for one would rather see five strong mainlines that a dozen or so that are mediocre.
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Re: A Question of Criteria for MainLine Campaigns

Post by Angry Andersen » April 11th, 2008, 1:32 pm

Would it be desirable to allow players to rate a campaign (e.g. 0 to 5 points) AFTER it has been finished? The scores could then be averaged and displayed in the campaign selection menu as "Average Player Rating".

(Note: "Blades of Avernum", a Shareware RPG with usermade content uses such a system and I have found it very helpful in choosing good campaigns)

This could help beginners choose the best campaigns first instead of being disappointed by campaigns that have "more potential for improvement". The development team could also use these ratings as rough inclusion criteria.

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Re: A Question of Criteria for MainLine Campaigns

Post by torangan » April 11th, 2008, 2:09 pm

Stuff like rating depends on the campaign server / client side rewrite allowing lots of additional information. This will probably happen during 1.5.x times, so let's hope we'll see such things in 1.6.
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Re: A Question of Criteria for MainLine Campaigns

Post by Weeksy » April 11th, 2008, 6:58 pm

At the moment, how about a poll in the general campaign threads with one number for every step on the scale we're using?
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